Just recently the MLA awarded Serenella Iovino the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies for her book Ecocriticism and Italy: Ecology, Resistance, and Liberation, a 20th and 21st centuries (Bloomsbury, 2016). For those of us working on ecological/ ecocritical approaches to non-Anglophone literature, this is good news!
There have similarly been some exciting developments in the field of French Studies. There’s (already!) too much to summarize—but the below are some of the main stop-off points so far.
MONOGRAPHS IN FRENCH
A number of monographs in French take up ecocritical approaches to (French) literature. A useful summary of recent trends is provided by Claire Jaquier (Université de Neuchâtel) on Fabula. Key works include:
For French/Francophone ecocritical work, it’s worth keeping an eye on:
NB. This is NOT a complete list. And there are numerous more projects in the works. So watch this space.
As the new academic year slowly appears on the horizon, there's plenty of good things happening at the SCSC in
Milwaukee. Very happy to be part of these two panels.
Friday, October 27, 10.30am-noon. Room: Lakeshore B 48.
Corpus Naturalis: Biology and Ecology in Renaissance France
Organizer: Robert J. Hudson
Chair: Phillip J. Usher
Les nouvelles et leurs ‘belles pièces d’hommes’ (Des Périers, nouvelle 3 des Nouvelles récréations et joyeux devis). Les recueils français de nouvelles du XVIe siècle, une littérature humorale? Boutet Anne, CESR
A Bodily Route to the Ecological Thought in Guillaume du Bartas’s La Sepmaine Stephanie Shiflett, Boston University
Drinking Rhubarb Straight Up: Strong Remedies and Ingested Substances in Montaigne Dorothy Stegman, Ball State University
Saturday October 28, 3.30pm-5pm. Room: Crystal 157.
Reading French Renaissance Texts in the 21st Century
Organizer: Cathy Yandell
Chair: Nora M. Peterson
Reading La Boëtie’s Discours de la servitude volontaire in 2017 Cathy Yandell, Carleton College
Theorizing the Memorial Texts of 16th-Century France David LaGuardia, Dartmouth College
Plant Theory and 16th-Century Botany Phillip Usher, New York University
Very happy to see this project for a new co-edited volume off the ground. Pauline Goul and myself, inspired by the fabulous work of Louisa Mackenzie, are putting this new volume together. We already have a pretty fabulous list of participants, but want to make sure that we don't miss anything. If you're up for it, please send us a proposal.
Reposting the CFP put on Fabula.org:
What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?
Editors Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher
The present volume seeks to offer a set of answers to the question raised by its title, “What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?”
All too often, theory in general--and ecocriticism in particular--are said to serve as “lenses” through which we can understand (early modern) literature. All too often, contemporary thought models are “applied” to (early modern) literature, as if true lay only in the contemporary. This volume’s purpose is to envision a back-and-forth, to allow (early modern French) literature to interrogate, to nuance, to provoke, contemporary ecological theory. Our volume’s title owes it concise formulation to Louisa Mackenzie, who first identified that question as pertinent at the Vancouver MLA conference in January 2015. Mackenzie, a scholar at the cutting edge of French Renaissance Studies in the United States, suggested that we should not be asking what ecocriticism can “do” for our readings of the early modern period, but precisely the opposite. Indeed, turning back to 16th century France means shifting to an intellectual context in which key concepts—nature/culture, geology, Deep Time, etc.—were thought in ways uncannily similar to contemporary thought, precisely because certain disciplinary “splits” and intellectual conceptualization had not yet happened, precisely because certain disciplines (e.g. geology) were nascent, but not born. This volume seeks to take seriously Mackenzie’s question and to offer a set of responses. Each chapter of the volume will take up a specific concept or idea of contemporary ecocriticism, in order to question it and refine it.
Possible concepts/ideas to address include:
-Chakrabarty’s idea of putting Deep Time in dialogue with the human time of history
-Morton’s Dark Ecology
-the nonhuman and objects, Morton’s hyperobjects, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter
-inter-relatedness and the mesh
-logocentrism / anthropocentrism
-the Anthropocene in 1600
Another reason this volume is so urgent is that it will offer a much needed response to the anglocentrism of much ecocriticism, denounced by Tim Morton in his guest column in PMLA on a “Queer Ecology”, and yet made especially clear of late (in 2016) when the MLA’s new forum on "Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities,” whose executive committee is made up of Sharon O’Dair, Stacy Alaimo, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Stephanie LeMenager, all professors of English, defined ecocriticism as "a scholarly practice within English Studies." Jeff Persel’s fabulous edited volume The Environment in French and Francophone Literature (FLS, vol 39, 2012), makes it evidently clear that ecocrticism is not, of course, limited in such a way to English departments! A related problem is that, even when considered as anglo-centric, ecocriticism as a discipline seems to be formulated mostly by voices that either look at post-1800 sources or at medieval ones. There is thus a gaping lack of any early modern point of view, which, especially with the possible starting date of the Anthropocene in 1600, leaves much to be done. This volume will thus assert and demonstrate the need for ecocriticism and ecological thought to take up and respond to non-English materials from the early modern period. In the words of Louisa Mackenzie in her article in the French Literature Series’s ‘Environment’ issue (2012), “It’s a good time to think about an early modern, a French, a queer ecology.”
The book will be in English, and the submission of chapters is set for May 30, 2017.
Please submit a title, 300-word abstract, and a short CV to Pauline Goul (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Phillip John Usher (email@example.com) by June 20, 2016.
A fabulous discovery: the work of Stephanie Posthumus, who speaks as follows of her current work on her faculty webpage:
"Constructing an ecological perspective for examining 20th and 21st Century French literary texts has been the main goal of her work since she finished her doctoral thesis in 2003. As she has argued in several articles, ecocriticism, while based on a concern for global environmental problems, is not transferable from one national literature to another. The traditions, philosophies and representations of the non-human world that influence and are influenced by literature create important cultural differences that do not allow for a global ecocritical perspective. Working to develop a French ecocriticism, she draws on ideas such as l’esthétique environnementale (Nathalie Blanc), la nature-culture (Bruno Latour) and le contrat naturel (Michel Serres). Her recent articles demonstrate a move from this theoretical foundation to its possible application in the analysis of landscapes in contemporary French literary texts (see her articles on Jean-Christophe Rufin, Michel Houellebecq, Marie Darrieussecq and Michel Tournier). Her work in this field was recently acknowledged as being both original and important when she was awarded the prize for the best article published in 2009 by a member of the APFUCC (Association des professeurs de français aux universités et collèges canadiens).
A second branch of her work looks at representations of animals in contemporary French literature. Whereas ecocriticism remains on the periphery of French literary studies, the animal question has garnered much critical attention. Researching different disciplinary work on animals, from philosophy (Derrida, de Fontenay, Lestel) to ethology (Cyrulnik, Chapouthier), from literary criticism (Desblache, Simon) to animal ethics (Vilmer), Prof. Posthumus aims to define the animal question with respect to the French contemporary context. At the same time, she is interested in comparing this context to that of other European countries as the European Union has become an important ruling body for establishing laws about animal well-being and rights in Europe. The relationships between local, regional, cultural differences in a global landscape are at the heart of Dr. Posthumus’s work on ecocriticism and animal studies."
As someone who works in a French department, of late on questions that rarely observe national or linguistic boundaries, it's a joy to come Posthumus who is clearly grappling with what it means to think about literature's relationship to environmental questions from an academic "home" whose definition seems to make such questions seem too big, or out of place. Posthumus clearly draws the lines a bit differently to me, focusing on Francophone theorists and French literature, whereas I perhaps make different boundaries: I seek to be in the early modern, as a place to be situated, while allowing different languages to blow in on the winds. In any case, let's all go read Posthumus!
I’m busy planning the course I’m teaching in the fall at Harvard University titled “Gods and Giants in the French Renaissance,” a course intended as an invitation to think about “supersized agencies” (like those of all anthropoi as a “geological force”) from the perspective of early modern literature. The aim of the course is to see how early modern writers imagined and pictured such agencies, in order to explore how formulations of “huge” agencies relate to political ecologies. One train of thought will be the question of gender: giants (though not gods) tend to be masculine, and fighting a giant often has to do with proving/defending a certain culturally constructed notion of masculinity. Thanks to this particular train of thought, then, I’ve come across some interesting articles and reflections that will figure somehow in the course.
In the Guardian in October 2014, Kate Ranworth asked “Must the Anthropocene be a Manthropocene?,” pointing out that: “Leading scientists may have the intellect to recognise that our planetary era is dominated by human activity, but they still seem oblivious to the fact that their own intellectual deliberations are bizarrely dominated by white northern male voices.” More recently (May 2015), Noah Theriault responded to Ranworth’s article, to ask the more theoretical question: “How does our perspective on the Anthropocene change when we take gender into account?,” to which a first answer is given: “Our conversations about habitability are inevitably about power and difference and thus also inevitably about gender” (emphasis mine). In a word, “Difference matters, even (and perhaps especially) in a time when global accountability and cooperation seem increasingly necessary.” Theriault concludes: “What habitability means in the Anthropocene is a question fraught with many others. For whom do we hope the planet will be habitable? Whose voices define habitability? Which earthly beings have a right to habitability? And so on. We cannot convincingly or justly answer such questions—and thus we cannot convincingly or justly address habitability—without a gendered perspective on the world we inhabit and the challenges we face.” (My emphasis). A number of scholarly articles also call to be read in this context: Gibson-Graham’s piece on “A feminist project of belonging for the Anthropocene”; Haraway’s piece on “Making Kin.” There is also the recent book by Wendy Harcourt and Ingrid L. Nelson about “Practising Feminist Political Ecologies.” (Nelson teaches at the University of Vermont- her page is here)
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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